Although the act of writing is an intimate affair, where even a 13″ laptop screen can be ideal, allowing the author to focus, the act of editing and constructing a large document and thinking about connections can benefit from a larger display.
Almost like XR in scale, though of course there is no third dimension. It was the act of working in VR which really showed me how more space helps however. If the current headsets were less likely to loose connection to my Macbook and had less screen door effect, I might not have needed to purchase this screen and I would have had the benefit of an even more flexible, and portable workspace.
I went from this when working in the Map view in Author:
Based on having document names (not only titles) stored in Visual-Meta when creating a reference in Author, and this being available in Reader, the following should be possible:
If the user has downloaded the document which is cited (linked to), and it is in a folder known to Reader (or a sub-folder therein), then the user should be able to click on a citation and the local document should open, not a web address.
The user has already downloaded the document cited.
The document name has not changed.
Can the folder have folders inside it?
Is it much work for Reader to check if, on user clicking a citation in the document like this  if the document linked to is on the hard drive.
Doug was my friend and mentor. His augmentation framework, which was presented in his 1962 paper, still informs and inspires what I do.
“We need to improve how we augment a group’s (small, large, internal, global etc.) capability to approach urgent, complex problems to gain more rapid and better comprehension (which can be defined as more thorough and more critical) which result in speedier and better solutions (more contextual, longer lasting, cheaper, more equitable etc.). And furthermore, we must improve our improvement process (as individuals and groups).”
My friend Fleur and I made a brief web based documentary with him. None of the originally uploaded videos are playable, so I have uploaded them to YouTube. To me, this is an example of the brittleness of ‘rich media’ and a reminder how important it is to have our knowledge also stored in robust media, such as text.
He told me how it all started:
…the world is very complex if you are trying figure out what you would fix, etc., and how you’ll go up trying to fix it. And one Saturday I – God – the world is so damn complex it’s hard to figure out.
And that’s what then dawned on me that, oh, the very thing: It’s very complex. It’s getting more complex than ever at a more rapid rate that these problems we’re facing have to be dealt with collectively. And our collective ability to deal with complex urgent problems isn’t increasing at anything like the parent rate that it’s going to be that the problems are.
Soif I could contribute as much as possible, so how–generally speaking–mankind can get more capable in dealing with complex urgent problemscollectively, then that would be a terrific professional goal. So that’s… It was 49 years ago. And that’s been ever since.
He wrote the following in an email September 2003, a statement which still provides me with joy and energy to continue the work on the future of text:
I honestly think that you are the first person I know that is expressing the kind of appreciation for the special role which IT can (no, will) play in reshaping the way we can symbolize basic concepts to elevate further the power that conditioned humans can derive from their genetic sensory, perceptual and cognitive capabilities.
And finally, Doug after look at ‘Hyperwords’ the system I developed at the time, a forerunner of Liquid:
We call it by many names; VR, AR and XR, but I think it will soon be referred to by the general public simply as putting on a headset. This is similar to how we used to work ‘with hypertext systems’ but now people just ‘go online’ and ‘click on links’.
I am a firm believer in the coming work style of most of using headsets for at least part of the day, smilier to how we might work on a smartphone, laptop and desktop, and even with our watches, as part of our workday. I don’t think the headset will take over, but it will definitely become a useful part of our work. Since this way of working offers much greater opportunities for information presentation, my own thinking is that this will be the ‘native’ information environment for many people and all the traditional media will be thought of as limited access points.
We built a few VR experiences and experiments for the Symposium, listed below, which should work on most headsets since they are web based.
Please give any feedback by clicking on the person’s name below (they are links to their twitter handles) or during the Symposium. Dialog is so important but please remember these are experiments and not polished final experiences.
The Symposium will start with a session on these VR experiences where you will be able to use one of the provided Meta Quest headsets. If you have a headset and you have done work in VR, please feel free to bring it to show your work.
‘Simple’ Mural (By Brandel) A simple and powerful introduction to VR, this shows a single Mural by Bob Horn, which you can use your hands to interact with: Pinch to ‘hold’ the mural and move it around as you see fit. If someone says VR is just the same as a big monitor, show them this!
This symposium looks at the future of text in VR from the perspective of knowledge work, powered by AI. It seeks to explore practices, policies, and possibilities that present are now and are laying ahead so that those working in this area of scholarship can lend their voices to the ongoing development of VR technologies and find effective ways to incorporate them into our work.
To clarify, this is about knowledge work in VR outside the clearly mapped 3D systems such as CAD and outside the social side of work, as well as games and entertainment in general, which are receiving investment already. Further, we do not expect VR to be the exclusive medium through which we interact with text, but rather that we will interact with text in VR alongside traditional digital as well as analog media in a ubiquitous computing environment.
We define AR as a subset of VR, one which the user will in the near future be able to toggle between, but which which will nevertheless have different use modes and use cases.
We Ask: What will text be when expressed in VR environments—when words are evoked through touch, interacted with through bodily movements, and is immersed with us in 3D space? How can working with text in VR augment how we think and communicate?
Since entering VR will be a much more personal experience than we are used to through flat screens, we ask how will VR change us and how might we need to change to flourish in VR rather than disappear in VR. What will it mean to be human when we are fully immersed in a digital environment? Can we build VR to connect us closer to each other and the natural world or are we bound to use VR to further isolate ourselves?
What will it be like for children of the future to grow up in worlds with no distance and with infinite possibilities? Will their reach be extended or will they lose perspective?
In other words, how might VR be developed to bring out the best in us?
Why You? A better future will not be automatic. Developments which only a few decades ago would have seemed like magic, or at least like science fiction are just around the corner, the results of massive investment by large companies.
We try to look atwhat aspect of work in VR can not be taken for grantedbecause they can not be expected to be developed by the commercial developers of VR systems since they will not directly benefit the cashflow of these companies.
The needs of knowledge workers do not perfectly overlap those of the companies producing the VR experiences.
Goal: The goal of this symposium is to spark dialogue around potential opportunities and issues of working with knowledge in VR and using AI augmentations.
Along with questions listed above and questions raised by you, there are two aspects which become prominent and underlay how we can develop VR environments which are open and connected:
• How addressability will work in VR; how locations, time, applications and locations in knowledge structures can be addressed. (you can’t address something if you can’t ‘address’ it). How will we move from one environment to another?
• Issues around infrastructures, ownership and compatibilities of knowledge products in different VR environments. Will we be able to take what we build in one environment into another, or will we have the same issues we had with compatibility we have experienced in traditional environments?
Welcome to ‘The Future of Text Volume 3’ where we focus on VR/AR and AI.
VR (including AR) is about to go mainstream and this can offer tremendous improvements for how we think, work and communicate.
There are serious issues around how open and VR environments will be and how knowledge objects and environments will be portable. Think Mac VS. PC and the Web Browser Wars but for the entire work environment.
The potential of text augmented with AI is also only now beginning to be be understood to improve the lives of individual users, though it has been used, in various guises and under various names (ML, algorithms etc.) to power social networks and ‘fake news’ for years.
More important than the specific benefits working in VR will have, is perhaps the opportunity we now have to reset our thinking and return to first principles to better understand how we can think and communicate with digital text. Douglas Engelbart, Ted Nelson and other pioneers led a ‘Cambrian Explosion’ of innovation for how we can interact with digital text in the 60s and 70s by giving us digital editing, hypertext-links and so on, but once we, the public, felt we knew what digital text was (text which can be edited, shared and linked), innovation slowed to a crawl. The hypertext community, as represented by ACM Hypertext, has demonstrated powerful ways we can interact with text, far beyond what is in general use, but the inertia of what exists and the lack of curiosity among users has made it prohibitively expensive to develop and put into use new systems.
With the advent of VR, where text will be freed from the small rectangles of traditional environments, we can again dream of what text can be. There will again be public curiosity as to what text can be.
To truly unleash text in VR we will need to re-examine what text is, what infrastructures support textual dialogue and what we want text to do for us. The excitement of VR fuels our imagination again–just think of working in a library where every wall can instantly display different aspects of what you are reading such as outlines and glossary definitions and images from the book are framed on the wall, all the while being interactive for you to change the variables in diagrams and see connections with cited sources. This is an incredibly exciting future once headsets get better (lighter and more comfortable as well as better visual quality). Because this cannot happen without fundamental infrastructure improvements, what we build for VR will benefit text in all digital forms.
This is important. The future of humanity will depend on how we can improve how we think and communicate and the written word, with all it’s unique characteristics of being swimmable, readable at your own pace and so on, will remain a key to this. The future of text we choose will choose how our future will be written.
VR is about to reach mass usage so we are focusing on text in VR, specifically for knowledge work, for the 2022 Symposium. Similarly, we look at AI methods for augmenting text since this is also becoming mainstream.
In order to unleash text in VR and text using the power of AI, we will need to upgrade the infrastructures of text, something which will benefit traditional digital text as well.
The potential of digital text has been left largely untapped after it was demonstrated to us by the pioneers in the 1960s–once digital text became mainstream the question of what it could be faded from public imagination. Now that we are entering the whole new world of VR we have a chance to fire up our imagination as to what richly interactive digital text can be and how it can help us think and communicate. This moment won’t last forever, once VR is commonplace we will likely see the same fading of curiosity as to what text and be and what it can do for us, so let us use this time wisely.
Book & Symposium
The full record of the Symposium, including presentations and Q&A/Dialogue, will be published in ‘The Future of Text’ Vol III: Future Text Publishing.
When & Where
The Symposium was held on the 27th and 28th of September 2022, at The Linnean Society, London, UK, and Online via Zoom.
Abstract. Presenters will submit an abstract which will be distributed to all the attendees 1 week before the symposium, on the 20th of September, as a special issue of our Journal. There is no restriction on length, format or style though there are some suggestions in the ‘Information for Presenters‘. Attendees, are also invited to submit a brief outline of their thoughts on the subject or what they expect from the event, which will also be distributed. This will be included in the ‘Future of Text’ book, unless requested otherwise.
Presentation On The Day. On the day there will be 5-10 mins for presentations, which may be exactly the same as the submitted abstract, a summary or a new presentation on the same topic, then 10-15 mins dialogue, for a total of 20 mins per presenter. This is a deadline we hold rigorously, to make the flow more relaxed for everyone 🙂 The presentation and full Q&A/Dialogue will be transcribed and included in the book.
Comments. Everyone is welcome to submit a comment on their own, someone else’s or a general comment a month later. This will also be included in the book.
The hosts and curators: Frode Hegland, Vint Cerf, Ismail Serageldin, Dene Grigar, Claus Atzenbeck & Mark Anderson.